Karl O’Brian Williams was studying English at UWI, Mona Campus when he happened upon a course on 20th Century Theater. It seemed like a good opportunity to take a class that was fun and did not involve exams. Little did Williams know that this introduction to the world of performing arts would change the course of his life for good.
The class was his first foray into the academics of acting and the performing arts, and it sparked a fire that would not be extinguished. Williams actually began his working life as an English teacher at Camperdown High School, but he also managed to audition for and win an acting role at the Pantomime Company, which paid him a stipend for his role in Janga Rock. He continued to win roles in JMTC productions, and appeared in Norman Rae’s production of Guys & Dolls.
By day, Williams had been working in the field of public relations. In 2001, he finally decided that he wanted to work full time in theatre, so he quit his job and went to New York to audition for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). While he did not get into the four year degree course, he was accepted to do a Certificate Course in Shakespeare Acting in London.
After his stint in London, Williams returned to Jamaica to complete a Diploma in Education at UWI, since teaching was the only other area outside of theatre that he had an interest in pursuing. He then got his MA in Educational Theatre at NYU.
Williams went on to teach, act and write plays. As he explains, all these areas are related and are part of a whole. Theatre is a lifestyle that requires doing many things at once.
To date, Williams has produced three plays. Random, Black That I Am, and Not About Eve. His play Black That I Am received the 2005 Actor Boy Award for Best New Jamaican Play.
Not About Eve, which he started writing as far back as 2001, did not come to the stage until 2006, when it won that year’s Actor Boy Award for Best New Jamaican Play. It went on to be staged in New York to great critical acclaim. It was chosen to be showcased at the National Black Theatre Festival in 2013 in North Carolina. Williams is only the third Jamaican playwright to have his play chosen for this prestigious event, joining such stalwarts of Jamaican theatre as Trevor Rhone and David Heron.
Williams has also recently been invited to stage ‘Voices From The Black That I Am’ in Glasgow, Scotland at ‘A Pie, A Pint and A Play’, which is a lunchtime theatre event to be held this summer. The production is a series of monologues that is a slight variation from the original play. The event showcases emerging and established writers from Scotland and recently, from other countries. It is housed at the Oran Mor Theater in Glasgow. Williams’ production will be staged May 12-17, 2014.
Williams says that it is very special to know that he can write something that is so uniquely Jamaican, and that it can still be appreciated by people who are unfamiliar with the Jamaican culture. He claims that he does not typically write about stereotypes such as the ghetto life or dancehall or the reggae culture, but instead focuses on other aspects of life that are still authentically Jamaican, but are perhaps not as prominent.
Seeing his plays on stage brings great satisfaction to Williams, knowing that those are his words, and his work that is being portrayed. He points out that although Not About Eve was written as far back as 2001, it is still relevant today. It is what he strives for, creating works that will continue to be relevant in years to come and that will still resonate with audiences long into the future.
Apart from producing plays, Williams continues to act in numerous productions. His most recent role was as King Herod in Craig Hutchinson’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, called “Salome Reversed”.
His company in Jamaica, MADKOW, is a partnership with Michael Daley, which was involved in bringing Not About Eve to production. The company strives to promote upcoming actors and playwrights in the industry.
As the artistic director of Braata Productions, which operates out of New York, Williams also assists in promoting Caribbean Culture to the wider society. The non-profit organization has three arms. Their choir of folk singers puts on concerts and promotes this aspect of Jamaican culture to the community. Their educational outreach involves sending teachers into schools to expose children to Jamaican and Caribbean theatre culture. And their theatre workshop produces plays and promotes and helps to develop new writers and playwrights from the Caribbean.
Williams also teaches public speaking at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY) as well as teaching theatre in other organizations throughout NYC.